Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon. Toei Animation does.

Summary: AU Season 01. In a world that has co-existed with Digimon for the past twenty years, humans and their partners battle against the Virus type Nightmare Soldiers set on casting the world into darkness. Eight kids will help reshape the future.

Title: The Alternative Factor

Ch.7 The Fly In the Web

It was a loud, grating pounding falling upon his ears that drew Tai out of sleep's stronghold and caused him to stir. Rubbing his eyes groggily at the bright morning light that was streaming in through his window, he found himself lying in his bed under the covers. Sometime in the night, his dad must have come in, removed his shoes and goggles and tucked him in carefully. Koromon lay next to his head, his long ears sprawled across his pillow like pink ribbon streamers as he snored heavily, but that hadn't been the sound that had awoken him though.

The pounding came again and Tai sat up trying to pin-point its location and instead felt a square-shaped object in his pocket. Pulling it out, he gazed at his brand-new digivice unsure of what to think of it, the device still foreign to him. It was a precious possession of so many others: his parents, his teachers, his classmates at school, and though he had seen what a digivice had looked like before, it was an entirely new experience between looking at and owning one.

"We believe that the destabilization of gateways might be caused, not by the Nightmare Soldiers forcefully ripping holes through dimensions, but in fact, by the very digivices our partners possess that control our evolution process…"

In the end though, it was nothing but a destructive tool that transformed Digimon into unrecognizable monsters.

Tai's hand clenched around the device as he struggled against the urge to throw it to the floor and stomp on it until it had broken into a million tiny pieces.

"There's never been any suggestion otherwise that we don't need digivices for our partner's to digivolve."

What if Oikawa's theory was correct and the digivice was merely a power blocker? What if it was the only obstacle keeping Koromon under control? Would circumstances have gone differently if he had had a digivice last time?

Tai glanced at Koromon sleeping peacefully—until a harsh cracking vibrated through the air, shaking the apartment complex's walls, rattling picture frames and jarring bookshelves—and caused the Digimon to spring wide awake and launch himself at his partner in a panic, wrapping both ears around Tai's neck as he curled against his chest seeking refuge from the unknown.

"It's okay," Tai smiled patting Koromon gently. "I can take a wild guess as to what all the racket is…"

The scene that greeted him as he stepped out of his bedroom, was the sight of Gotsumon punching a hole in the living room wall to join the numerous others that were strewn out alongside it in a pattern discombobulated enough to play connect-the-dots to form a picture.

"Great, almost there! One more time!" Susumu yelled enthusiastically, cheering his partner on.

"Dad, what's going on?" Tai asked dreading the answer.

"Oh, Tai you're awake, good," Susumu said half-turning. "Gotsumon and I are doing a little maintenance. I'm one step ahead of those SDF guys. I know why they let us go so easy without a fuss—they're waiting for their number one 'persons of interest' to make contact with 'the enemy'," the man said doing quotation marks in the air before crossing his arms over his chest and grinning maniacally at the near-destroyed wall. "They've planted a bug in the phone line hoping to catch us in the act. No doubt they think we have all sorts of little codes that we use to plan our dastardly plot to wipe out humanity since they've already labeled us as mindless Nightmare Soldier drones, so one innocent word when talking casually to our friends can bring the anvil down on our heads so to speak. Well, you're not going to make this family your scapegoat for your complete ineptness!"

"Rock Fist!" Gotsumon cried finally breaking through and plaster erupted in a splendid shower of white particles exposing the phone and electrical wires that behind it.

"Yus, victory!" Susumu crowed gleefully grabbing a handful and tugging at them as he inspected each one with a crazed gleam in his eyes. "Where are you, you little transmitter you? Thought you could outsmart the Kamiyas, did you? Not today, no siree, hahahaha! "

It was times like this that Tai secretly wished he was adopted.

More than that, he was slightly irritated at his father's timing. Up until that moment, he hadn't decided if he was going follow Captain Ishida's advice and talk to the woman he had referred him to, but now that the phone was down, he realized he couldn't call the Fuji TV station and that he had really wanted to. And also…

"Aren't you going to be late for work?" he asked, wondering why his dad hadn't left yet. He was usually gone by the time he woke up. It wasn't Sunday.

"The company granted me two days leave for the family emergency that sprung up," Susumu explained. "So did Gotsumon's."

Gotsumon worked at a construction site while his father worked as an insurance agent. Sometimes, if a human's choice in jobs didn't agree with their partner's build or personality, then the Digimon would hire themselves out as a mercenary to whatever company best suited them.

"Geez, Dad, could you keep it down at least?" Tai said. "Mom needs peace and quiet."

"Mom is already up," came a voice from the kitchen that caused his heart to skip a beat.

Yuuko Kamiya stood in front of the stove, presenting him with a clear view of her back. With the skillet in one hand, she turned and smiled and the warm glow of health shone pink in her cheeks, a total inverse reflection of the person she had been the day before.

Uncertain if his eyes were playing a trick on him, Tai inched cautiously towards her stopping when he was a few feet away and gazing at her as if he had seen a ghost.

"Come and eat your breakfast, boys. Food is no good cold," Yuuko said dishing out the contents onto the plates set out on the dining table.

Tai noticed the meal consisted of some unrecognizable blueish-grey sludge-like patties with red lumps sticking out of the middle.

"I thought I would make blueberry pancakes today, but then I remembered we're all out of blueberries, so I decided to invent a new recipe and used red peppers instead. I call them: chili cakes!" Yuuko declared humming happily. "They're much healthier anyway!"

"Wow, she made bad food," Tai mumbled amazed to Koromon under his breath. "She is feeling better."

"Told you so!" Puffmon chirped, hovering in the air like an over-sized dandelion spore.

"Looks delicious, honey," Susumu said wandering over, multi-colored wires wrapped around his body like ivy taking over a trellis. "Right, Gotsumon?"

"Couldn't we have ice cream?" Gotsumon moaned looking as if he might cry at the prospect of eating another one of Yuuko's unique creations to put it delicately. Tai didn't blame him. The last meal his mother had served had left the Digimon locked in the bathroom all day. For one composed mostly of rock, Gotsumon didn't possess a rock-solid stomach.

Susumu scored a kick non-too lightly to his partner's leg.

"I mean, oh boy, yum!" Gotsumon exclaimed.

It felt weird, everyone sitting down to eat together. Tai couldn't remember the last time they had done that. His mom usually had more bad days than good and stayed in bed for the most part and his dad was usually early to work and late to come home. The whole setting was sort of surreal.

"So, you're Tai's new partner, are you?" Yuuko said, addressing Koromon as if it were the first time she had laid eyes on the Digimon, yesterday's meeting having been apparently forgotten. "My you certainly do have a hearty appetite!"

For Koromon had dived face-first into meal laid out before him as if he hadn't eaten in weeks, gulping down everything in sight, and then appearing very forlorn once he realized his plate had been licked clean, a keening whine rising out of the depths of his throat as he looked up at Yuuko imploringly with big red eyes.

"Well, at least someone wants seconds," she stated pleased, rising out of her seat and gathering up the Digimon's plate before heading towards the kitchen to refill it.

Koromon found three plates full of chili cakes shoved under his nose while Yuuko's back was turned.

"Hurry, buddy, before she comes back!" Gotsumon cried, his eyes overly-bright and moist with desperation.

Koromon blinked at the feast before him then glanced at his partner unsure.

"It's for a noble cause!" Tai urged. "You'll be saving lives!"

Koromon crooked a wide, toothy grin at him and began wolfing down the food at lightning speed.

"I'm gonna teeeeeell!" Puffmon said in a sing-song voice as she twirled about in the air overhead.

"You do and I'll take you to my school and let the P.E. instructor use you to play badminton with!" Tai threatened.

Yuuko returned to the dining table to find three plates completely empty and devoid of even a single crumb.

"Oh my, if I had known you all would like my chili cakes so much, I would have made more batter!" she said thoughtfully. "Maybe I should—"

"NO!" Tai, Susumu and Gotsumon all cried in unison in a panicked clamor.

"No, dear, we couldn't eat another bite. The first batch really hit the spot," Susumu lied, patting his stomach delicately.

"Well, then try some of my new protein shakes to wash them down with!" Yuuko simpered, setting down the tray of drinks she was carrying. "They're banana, strawberry, milk and honey!"

Three pairs of disbelieving eyes stared back at her.

"And I also added fish oil and peanut butter because they're both brain foods that are high in vitamin B3 and regulate cholesterol! And half a cup of natto beans because they're rich in protein!" Yuuko finished. "I want my boys to remain healthy after all!"

Tai eyed the clear glass of a thick, mushy brown substance and whimpered, "Dad…"

"Be brave, my son, be brave," Susumu murmured sideways out of the corner of his mouth, all the color having drained from his face.

There was no chance of rescue this time. Yuuko had sat down and was waiting with eager anticipation for them to try her newest invention and their savior, Koromon, had fallen asleep into his fifth plate of chili cakes, a contented smile fixed on his face as he drifted through blissful Digimon dreams.

oOo

Tai leaned back in his chair once breakfast was over, feeling more than a little queasy. Eating one of his mom's experiments without any real or junk food to soften the blow took its toll out on him every time. He felt like a Monochromon had rammed him right in the gut. And by the way his dad and Gotsumon were slouched over clutching their stomachs, they weren't faring much better.

But… his mother was happy—he could hear the sound of her washing dishes in the sink and the tune of a song she was softly humming—she was happy and he supposed that's all that mattered. It was a rare day that Yuuko found the strength and energy to be up on her feet for very long. Tai enjoyed those times, even if he became violently sick later.

Even if it meant purposefully ignoring the empty plate and glass set out at the end of the table awaiting the arrival of a person who would never come…

"Ah, looks like I'll have to find that transmitter some other time," Susumu groaned, his face having taken on a greenish hue. "I can't focus properly. The things I do for love…"

The transmitter… the phone line…

Talk to Mizuki Kishimoto at the Fuji TV station…

Well, if he couldn't call from home, there was a telephone booth on the corner just across the street from their apartment complex.

"I'm going out for awhile, ok?" Tai said, scooping up a still-slumbering Koromon in his arms.

"Oh no, you're not, young man!" Susumu exclaimed, recovering swiftly suddenly. "I was too tired to talk about it yesterday, but not coming home by curfew, wandering into restricted zones with the full knowledge of what you're doing is forbidden, giving your old man a near heart attack when he hears you were in a Nightmare Soldier's attack? You expect to get off scott-free on all of that with no punishment whatsoever? You are so grounded!"

"But, Dad—" Tai started.

"Grounded!" Susumu roared, bull-dozing over the protest and pounding the palm of his fist onto the table for emphasis. "Grounded until you get married and give me grandchildren, I say!"

"The news said it was going to rain today. You might catch a cold. Besides, it's too dangerous for you to go outside anyway with all these Nightmare Soldier attacks," Yuuko voiced from the kitchen. "Why don't we all watch tv together? I can't remember the last time we all sat down as a family."

Tai found himself sitting on the couch in the living room five minutes later waiting for his parents to decide on a movie from their collection, his arms crossed as he sulked quietly.

"Don't be upset, Tai," Puffmon said next to his ear. "They're just worried about you, that's all."

"They didn't always used to be this overprotective," Tai grumbled but his anger receded a little. He couldn't blame them—any parent who had had a kid involved in the Hikarigaoka Incident was bound to be a bit paranoid anytime their child went out of their sight.

It was cozy sitting between his two parents, nestled within the cushions of the couch. Later on, Tai couldn't even recall what movie had been playing, just the warm feeling of security and peace he had felt. It almost felt like they were a family again, except for the absence of one person.

Yuuko didn't last the whole movie. Tai hadn't expected her to. He was surprised she had lasted as long as she had that morning. Halfway through the film, her chin sunk to her chest as her head bowed low with exhaustion, a familiar grey tinge dusting her cheekbones.

His dad gathered her up in his arms carefully and carried her to her room. His objective when he returned was to tangle himself up in the phone line again searching for the nonexistent transmitter.

Tai fidgeted where he stood, trying to think up a way to get out of the apartment just long enough to make a brief phone call. "Dad?" he spoke up hesitantly.

"Hmm, what is it?" Susumu said in a distracted manner, turning over wire after multicolored wire, peering closing at each individual one.

"So, um, I'm gonna go to my room and play some video games—" Tai said.

"This one!" Susumu shouted, tugging forcefully on a copper wire and ripping it further out of the wall.

All the lights immediately shut off and every electrical device stopped working instananeously.

"Fudge it all!" his dad swore violently.

"I mean, I'll be in my room reading a book by candlelight," Tai rephrased hurriedly.

"Sure, son, that's fine," Susumu said before yelling, "Gotsumon, get me a flashlight! I blew a fuse or something!"

Tai stumbled along in the darkness as best as possible, one hand holding Koromon under his arm and feeling the wall with his other to guide him to the front door. Behind him he heard the startled exclamations and gigantic crash of his dad and Gotsumon as they collided with each other in the inky blackness. Opening the door cast enough light for him to see the coat rack by the entrance and for him to grab his jacket before dashing out.

oOo

"I'm sorry, but we are not allowed to give out information about our employees."

"I don't want information! I just want to talk to Mizuki Kishimoto—"

"Personal phone calls are also not permitted."

"It's an emergency!"

"Are you involved in a dire and life-threatening situation?'

"Uh, no, but—"

"Are you even a family member?"

"Well, no—"

"Then stop calling this number and wasting my time, kid!" screeched the exasperated voice of the person on the other end of the line. "If you're going to make prank phone calls here do it when I'm off-duty!"

They hung up with a resounding click.

Tai placed the phone back on the receiver with a disgruntled expression. "Well, that could have gone better," he said.

It seemed as if the only way to speak to Mizuki Kishimoto was if he went to the Fuji TV station himself.

It cold and wet and raining. It would probably end up taking most of the day and when he got home, his absence would no doubt have been noticed and he would be punished (but he wasn't sure how his dad could ground him any further than he already had). But avid curiosity over whether there was a connection between the Fuji TV station and the Hikarigaoka Incident overwhelmed him. If the tv station could provide answers, answers to anything on what happened that night four years ago, Tai was willing to accept any form of punishment for disobeying his father.

"Let's go there," he decided out loud.

Perched atop his head, Koromon gurgled in agreement.

"Hey, how about I try teaching you to speak?" Tai said, zipping up his jacket and pulling the hood over his partner before stepping out of the telephone booth and into the pouring rain. "We can start with the alphabet song. It goes like this: a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko…"

It was fun, skipping down the soggy sidewalks, splashing through puddles and singing a song from his early school days with Koromon joining in and badly butchering the syllables. Luckily, by subway, it only took twenty minutes to arrive at their destination. Getting there was the easy part. Getting in… not so much.

"Halt, unidentified human! You are not allowed access past this vicinity!" barked out a Centarumon guarding the front doors to the Fuji TV station.

"Really?" Tai said dryly.

"Authorized personnel or by appointment only. Have you been granted previous admission?" Centarumon interrogated, stomping his left front hoof down on the top of the steps firmly.

"What? Oh, yeah," Tai said quickly. "I'm a reporter for my school's newspaper. We're doing a story on how the inner workings of a television station works. They made an appointment here for me to come today. I'm supposed to meet with Mizuki Kishimoto."

Tai was surprised at how inept he was becoming at lying. The Centarumon appeared contemplative. "Come," the Digimon said turning to the double glass doors which opened automatically as he stepped forward.

Things were beginning to look up, Tai thought. Until he realized he was following the Centarumon to the front desk in the lobby where behind the counter, stood an Andromon at full alert.

His past dealing with an Andromon hadn't gone very well.

"Andromon, are there any reporters from a primary school scheduled for admittance today?" Centarumon asked.

The android Digimon's nerves in the exposed muscle tissue glowed a neon blue as he searched through his memory banks.

"Negative," the Andromon stated crisply, zooming his red eyes in on Tai. "The human has told a fabrication."

A yellow, pulsating energy began forming in Centarumon's mechanical hand as he aimed it at Tai. "Don't move, perpetrator," came the warning.

This wasn't turning out to be Tai's day at all.

A pink blast of bubbles erupted from underneath the hood of his jacket and made contact with Centarumon's arm. They didn't harm the higher-level Digimon any, but they knocked it sideways from its mark with the surprise attack.

Tai seized the opportunity and made a headlong dash to the elevators.

"Halt!" came the ringing cry of Centarumon behind him as he pressed the button for the doors to open.

Thankfully, they were much faster than his school's elevators. Running inside, he punched in several floors into the control panel and frantically thumbing the close button.

"Attention, a perpetrator has infiltrated the building! A perpetrator has infiltrated the building!" Andromon speaking into the intercom was the last thing he heard before the doors slid shut.

"Geez, the guy could have warned me about the hair-triggered security here, ya think," Tai said, clutching his chest in relief at his narrow escape.

Koromon made several irritable-sounding growls in response.

"My thoughts exactly."

oOo

It wasn't as hard to find Mizuki Kishimoto in a huge building that he didn't know his way around in as he imagined. Apparently, since he had mentioned her name to the Centarumon before, she was being assumed as his intended goal and therefore subject for a swat team of Mamemon as bodyguards. Tai simply followed the nearest group he overheard boasting loudly about "protecting their target" and kept a safe distance from them, hugging walls and corners along the way.

He was in luck. He didn't even need to wonder what he should do if the Mamemon got on an elevator. As if some invisible hand of fate was guiding him, he just happened to step off on the correct floor that Mizuki Kishimoto was present on. The Mamemon lead him right to her unawares.

"For the last time, I'm just going to the ladies' room! You don't have to follow me in there!" an irate woman's voice split the air.

"We must maintain a safe perimeter around you! This area is not secure!" the lead Mamemon informed her in a somber, squeaky voice.

"Look, you little cretins," a woman with dark-framed glasses growled as her head rose out of the top of her cubicle as she stood, exposing her chin-length, black hair. "You give me five minutes alone to myself without me tripping over one of you underfoot or trying to type up a report without your annoying little chatterboxes chasing away my concentration, or I give you the full treatment of why human males are scared to death of us females one week out of the month, got it?"

"I'd do what she says if I were you," whispered a fellow co-worker, leaning out of his own cubicle and looking a bit petrified himself.

"Thank you, Ueshima," the woman said, smiling broadly at him, which strangely enough, only seemed to terrify the poor guy even more.

The Mamemon held a quick conference huddled in a small circle and whispering in hushed, conspiratorial tones.

"Very well," the lead Mamemon relented looking extremely displeased. "You have approximately five minutes to answer to your body's biological functions and report directly back to this spot. You are not to exit the building or deviate from this present floor. If you fail to comply with the aforementioned regulation, we will be forced to use more drastic measures to ensure your—"

"Yeah, yeah, no need to throw the book at me, I'll be right back," the woman said stalking off, heading in Tai's direction where he was watching, causing him to duck into a nearby storage closet. "Annoying metal golf-balls…" he heard her mutter under her breath as she rounded the corner.

Tai pushed the door open slightly and peered through the narrow crack. The woman had by-passed bathrooms completely and gone outside onto the enclosed balcony instead, her silhouette pressed dark against the glass.

Looking both ways to make sure the hallway was clear, Tai ran forward, pulled back the balcony door and stepped into place right next to the woman.

"Hmm?" she said taking the cigarette from her lips, momentarily startled by his appearance, exhaling cloud of grey smoke into the air that the rain quickly smothered. "What are you doing here, chibi? I must have missed the 'Take Your Kids To Work Day' memo. Not that I have any, but still, it's never wise to be behind the times at a news station."

"Are you Mizuki Kishimoto?" Tai asked, hoping he had the right person.

The woman paused for a second, blinked once, looked him up and down… then burst out laughing hysterically.

"Wait, you're the 'dangerous threat' that has security running around in circles? Hahaha! And here I was so flattered thinking I had an obscure, obsessed fan or something stalking me! Man, what a let down! Look kid," she said, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. "If you're trying to sell some wild story to the media, I'm the wrong girl to go to. I don't know how you even got a hold of my name. I'm the one behind the scenes looking up information to make sure everyone gets their facts straight. You might want to try a news anchor or cameraman next time."

There wasn't any time to spare for introductions. "Hiroaki Ishida sent me," Tai said breathlessly.

The woman seemed to have frozen solid at the name he had mentioned. "What was that… again?" she asked slowly as if she couldn't believe her ears.

"Hiroaki Ishida sent me," Tai repeated. "He told me to tell you to look up the building's security video files of the months of July and August of 1995. And that the answer 'to what you are seeking is what manner of Digimon were present in the network during that time frame'."

The woman stared at him soundlessly for several seconds before finally exploding, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"He… he said you'd know what he meant," Tai said feeling sweat collect on his brow.

"Damned Hiroaki, always sending me looking for information with half the picture!" she fumed, blowing thin tendrils of smoke through her nostrils from one long, angry drag on her cigarette. "What building exactly! This one? Another one? And do you know how many days it would take to look through hours and hours of video files are on record for two months!"

"Try August 1st," Tai said hoarsely, feeling his throat constrict.

Mizuki Kishimoto gazed at him in a mixture of mingled horror and pity. "God, kid, were you part of that too?" she asked knowing instantly what the date meant.

Tai nodded silently.

"Like T.K. and Matt," she murmured seeming to make up her mind. With a flick of her wrist, she stubbed her cigarette out in the disposable receptacle. "Right, come with me, chibi."

"Where are we going?" Tai asked, following her back inside and down the hallway.

"Back to my desk before my troupe of nannymon puts my picture on a milk carton," Mizuki Kishimoto said.

"But aren't they looking for me?"

"They're looking for a six foot tall hunchback with bare-wrestling muscles of steel. The rumors of your description that Rocky and Bullwinkle on the ground floor sent out have been greatly exaggerated. They were probably too ashamed to admit the truth that a pipsqueak like you got the better of them." the woman chuckled. "Just follow my lead, okay?"

The Mamemon weren't particularly pleased to see the person they were supposed to be protecting returning in the company of a stranger.

"Identify yourself, human trespasser!" the lead Mamemon ordered upon their arrival, pointing one bolt-tipped, red boxing glove in Tai's direction.

"Now don't go getting your mittens tied up in a knot," Mizuki Kishimoto declared with a roll of her eyes. "This is just my nephew…"

"Tai," Tai all but yelped as the woman jabbed her elbow sharply into his back for him to speak up.

"It's 'Take Your Kids To Work Day', didn't you know?" Mizuki Kishimoto smiled. "But I don't have any, so I thought Tai would enjoy me showing him around the news station. He wants to get into the business when he grows up."

"Where was he when we first were assigned to you then?" the lead Mamemon pressed suspiciously.

"Oh, that's why I went to go look for him. The little dear had wandered off and gotten himself locked in the storage closet!" Mizuki Kishimoto giggled, patting her "nephew" on the shoulder in condolence.

Tai didn't have to fake the look of embarrassed sheepishness that slid over his face. He rather thought the woman was enjoying deceiving the Mamemon far too much.

"If you lot don't mind, I'm just going to show him what I do to earn my paycheck around here," Mizuki Kishimoto said, issuing towards her cubicle and the stack of papers that was currently swamping her desk.

Still suspicious, but not able to come up with a valid reason why not to allow this request, the Mamemon grudgingly complied, taking up a perimeter around the woman's cubicle within a three-feet radius.

"Finally," Mizuki Kishimoto muttered casting one last scathing glare at the back of the Mamemon's round, grey bodies before settling in her chair, her fingertips gliding rapidly over the keyboard.

"What are you doing?" Tai asked going to stand behind her to get a good view of the computer screen.

"Asking my old buddy Chioka a favor. I need access to the security files—specifically the ones on August the 1st. I don't think Hiroaki knew he had transferred to that department or he would have sent you to him instead of me," Mizuki Kishimoto said as she finished typing and sent the message.

They waited for a reply and Tai let his eyes rove over the objects littering the woman's desktop: a half-full mug of coffee, assorted piles of papers with different colored sticky notes attached to them, an overturned stapler, a photograph of four people, two of which Tai recognized…

He was reaching for the picture before he even realized it. It was partially hidden behind an overflowing pencil holder. His wrist was caught by a firm hand before he could touch it.

"Something caught your eye, chibi?"

"That picture…"

"Hmm, this?" Mizuki Kishimoto said picking up the frame so he could see it better.

Two men and one woman in the background were laughing at another man who had been trying to set up the camera on its stand, but it had taken the picture before he was ready to regroup with the others. Tai recognized Mizuki Kishimoto as the woman. Next to her were two guys, probably fellow news coworkers. The man who had been trying to set up the camera was no other than Captain Ishida. The man's hand was frozen forever stretching out towards the camera as he was caught with a startled expression on his face no doubt from the flash that had occurred. He looked younger in the photograph. The wrinkles and frown lines were absent from his face and his eyes didn't appear as haunted as they had that day at the Self Defense Forces' meeting.

"We were all so much happier then," Mizuki Kishimoto murmured, her voice so low that Tai barely heard it.

When Tai glanced at her, the woman was furiously cleaning her glasses with the sleeve of her blouse, her lips pressed in a tight line. Looking back down at the photograph, Tai blinked as he did a double take. They were Digimon in the picture too. A Tortomon's head was peering from between the two men's shoulders in the background while a Kamemon was waving one clawed hand in the air, the other slung around a very grumpy-looking Kiwimon. And tucked to the very left side, squatting low with one knee to the ground so he could fit into the picture was a Leomon.

Partners, Tai thought. They're the humans' partners.

"But where's Wizardmon?" he whispered with a cold chill creeping down his back.

"What are you talking about, kid?" Mizuki Kishimoto spat harshly, snatching the photograph out of his hands and putting it back in its former resting place. "That… thing… Hiroaki's bonded to now will never be half the partner Leomon was!"

oOo

"Losing your partner can drive you insane…"

oOo

"You're not the only one who has endured a personal tragedy in the Hikarigaoka Incident. Those other kids have too, as well as myself and my sons. You're not alone in your suffering... in more ways than one," Captain Ishida stated gazing purposefully at the sleeping Koromon…

oOo

"Hey, kid, you still here?" Mantarou Inoue greeted Tai. His gaze drifted to Koromon who was nestled up against his side. "Is that your new partner? See, there was no need for kicking up a fuss. A bond's a bond no matter which way you look at it. Any Digimon will do, so long as they keep you from going insane."

"You don't know anything about it!" Matt shouted, half-rising from his bed. His face, splotchy red from the tears he had shed before, was turning a vivacious shade of puce. "Don't talk about things you don't understand!"

oOo

"What ha—" Tai started to say.

"If Hiroaki hasn't told you about it, then it's certainly not my place to," Mizuki Kishimoto declared with a tone so resolute that it announced the end of that line of conversation.

A message popped up on the computer.

I don't know what's going on, Mizuki, but whatever you do, don't get caught or it'll be both our necks.

-Chioka

Attached to the message was a folder.

"You might want to sit down, chibi. We could be here until closing time if we're lucky," Mizuki Kishimoto said.

"If… we're lucky?" Tai repeated incredulously.

"Yeah, we might have to pull an all-nighter," the woman stated with a wry grin as she opened the folder and it took a full five minutes for the video file list to load properly.

Tai sat down before his legs gave out from shock.

oOo

Koromon was busy singing badly mutilated notes of the alphabet song and Tai was listlessly humming along. It had been five hours since he had arrived at the Fuji TV Station and delivered the captain's message. Mizuki Kishimoto had been sifting through countless numbers of security videos with nothing to show for it except grey shadows under her eyes and Tai running what seemed like endless cups of coffee to her, having to pass through the distrustful eyes of the Mamemon each time he made a trip to the office's kitchen.

"You do realize that this 'manner of Digimon present in the network during that time frame' might not even be on these files?" Mizuki Kishimoto yawned tiredly. "It might be another date after all."

"No, it's on there," Tai said confidently and was surprised that he actually believed his own words. It had to be: this connection between the Fuji TV Station and the Hikarigoka Incident. It had to be no other date other than that fateful day, August the 1st of 1995.

"Whatever you say, chibi. This sure beats researching whether consuming natto beans reduces the likelihood of blood clotting any time though," the woman chuckled as a thrill of perverse glee that she was abandoning an undesirable workload shot through her.

"I don't know about blood clots, but it sure reduces your appetite and kills your taste buds," Tai mumbled under his breath to Koromon, his stomach rolling at the thought of his mother's protein shakes this morning. He hadn't been hungry all day since.

Koromon crooned happily in remembrance and drooled slightly as he nudged Tai's pockets for food.

"Sorry, this is all we got," Tai said dumping the confectionery bowl of peppermints Mizuki Kishimoto had given him on the floor in front of the Digimon.

Koromon let out an ecstatic gurgle and swiped up the whole pile with his long tongue into his mouth.

"Hey, don't eat the plastic!" Tai cried, trying to pry open his partner's jaws with both hands.

Behind him, Mizuki Kishimoto muffled a surprised shriek and jumped out of her chair.

"Find something?" Tai asked excitedly, springing to his feet in a flash.

The woman's face had gone pale, making the shadows under her eyes more prominent. Her glasses had slipped to the tip of her nose and she was breathing heavily as if she had run a ten mile course. Her hands lying against her side were twitching involuntarily.

Frightened, she was frightened.

"Kid, I still have no idea what connection this has to do with Hikarigaoka… but I think I found our Digimon present in the network," she rasped out.

With one shaking hand that she placed over the mouse, she moved the arrow back one minute on the current video's time line and pressed 'play'.

It was quick. So quick that Tai almost didn't catch it. In fact, he wouldn't have if he hadn't been looking for something to be there. And when it did appear, only half of its proportion was shown. It crawled across the bottom part of the screen so swiftly, he only caught a glimpse of purple, spindly legs and a giant green eye swiveling madly, but that was enough.

"Is that a—"

"Parasimon," Mizuki Kishimoto finished grimly.

"I… I don't understand," Tai said bitter disappointment welling up inside him.

He had expected a clearer answer of some kind. Somehow, he had thought that upon seeing the Digimon present in the network, pieces of the puzzle would fall into place, but he was even more confused than before.

"How was a Parasimon able to infiltrate the network? We have firewalls for that," Mizuki Kishimoto was muttering to herself. "What was it doing here anyway? No… no why was this video never brought to security's attention? Did they not catch it? But, you can see it, you can see it—shit!"

Tai jumped at the woman's violent cursing. "Wha—"

"It's a trap!" she swore hurriedly closing the file and deleting the folder. "They left the video as bait and we were stupid enough to take it!"

"Who?"

"They let a Parasimon in on purpose, didn't they?" Mizuki Kishimoto breathed sounding close to tears. "Just another part of their precious war game no doubt. Oh god, poor Hiroaki… he must have figured it out somehow… I didn't realize, none of us… Chioka! I have to warn him—he sent me the video files!" Frantically, she began typing out a message.

"You have to tell me what's going on!" Tai shouted angrily. She knew. The woman knew something. The sight of the Parasimon had obviously jarred her senses and made her see a deeper picture, a picture he was not able to comprehend.

"Listen, kid," the woman said, whirling on him and gripping tightly by the elbows. "Did you tell anyone your last name here? Anyone?" she demanded.

"N-no!" Tai said, soundly shaken now.

"You get out of this building this instant, do you understand?" she ordered. "Don't tell anyone your full name or that you met me or that you came here at all."

"But why?"

"Because I'm going to disappear soon," Mizuki Kishimoto said a resigned smile as if she had already accepted the fate only she knew was coming. "And I don't want to drag you down with me."

"I don't understand," Tai repeated.

"Just tell me one thing, please," the woman said. "Do you know T.K. and Matt?" Tai nodded slowly. "Are they… doing well?" she asked as if it were her last request.

The woman's eyes were overly moist, her face shining with a desperation to know the truth. Tai didn't think she would be satisfied with the polite answer of "yes".

"T.K.'s a nice kid who fools people with his cuteness then manipulates them and Matt's just a stuck-up jerk," Tai stated with a shrug.

Mizuki Kishimoto laughed at his open honesty, holding onto the back of her chair for support.

"I guess they're getting along fine then," she said. "Thank you, chibi. Strange, eh? I wanted something more exciting to look into than natto beans and I got it. Be careful what you wish for. It's not your fault for what happens, alright? Know that much."

Tai tried to speak, tried to ask what she meant, what she knew, but his voice died in his throat.

"Go, kid. Now, while you still have time," Mizuki Kishimoto urged. "And don't come back. Ever. They… they ought to be coming for me soon."

A voice in his head was screaming at him to stay with her and face the anonymous "they". To not run away. To find a concrete answer. To face the enemy head on… but Tai found himself picking up Koromon and walking out of the woman's cubicle instead, ignoring the voice completely.

It hadn't won four years ago. Why should it win now?

His feet felt like two blocks of lead with each step he took. Pass the Mamemon, down the hallway, down the stairwell, and out the back exit.

Coward, you coward, the voice chanted cruelly. Like before…

Memories tried to surface, but this time Tai pushed them back. He didn't want to look at them.

Coward…

"Shut up," Tai whispered, his head bowed low. "Just shut up."

For once, Koromon's presence in his arms was not comforting, merely a guilty reminder.

And the wetness trailing down his cheeks was caused by the still-falling rain.

oOo

The subway was crowded more than usual that evening, but that was to be expected by the outside elements. It was grey and damp and the streets were being flooded with puddles as the rain steadily fell. Anyone would want to escape that sort of weather by riding in a dry, underground train.

Tai found himself packed in the subway car like a sardine in a can, pressed close against an elderly grandmother loaded down by shopping bags and boy around his age gripping a duffel bag, the hood of his soaked sweatshirt pulled tight over his face to shield him from the rain like Tai's own jacket hood was.

Tai wondered what had happened to Mizuki Kishimoto and felt his stomach knot up. Dully, he stared out of the window to watch the rain pour down. It was really late. His dad was going to kill him.

Kill…

"That… thing… Hiroaki's bonded to now will never be half the partner Leomon was!"

Wizardmon wasn't Captain Ishida's original partner.

"Losing your partner can drive you insane…"

Coward…

Suddenly, it was all too much, everything: the photograph, the Parasimon, Mizuki Kishimoto and her warning, the confusion of not knowing, the fear of the unknown, the guilt from four years ago. It started in the depths of his stomach and worked its way up until all of it came out in an overwhelming rush that he emptied in the subway car's wastebasket.

Later, Tai blamed it on his mother's protein shakes that his stomach had never fully digested.

In any event, it led to a rather surprising situation.

"TAICHI KAMIYA!"

Tai lifted a weary head at the accusing exclamation and saw the boy who he had been next standing over him, hands on hips and feet apart, his sweatshirt hood falling back to reveal a head of short coppery hair that framed around the face that was turning red in rage, crimson-brown eyes glaring a hole through him.

It was the familiar glare that jolted his memory and now Tai recognized him.

Well, her to be more exact.

"TWO TIMES! TWO TIMES!" Sora Takenouchi cried practically spitting blue fury, pointing a violently shaking finger in his direction.

What? Tai looked down and dimly realized then that it hadn't been waste basket that his hands were clutched around or that he had thrown up in.

Oh.

Déjà vu had a cruel sense of irony.

To Be Continued…

A/N: Yes, Tai threw up in Sora's hat again, buwahahahaha! XD I know that that was something only the dub put into Digimon the Movie, but on rare occasions, dubs can be more funnier than the original (even if not needed). I couldn't help it! Fufufu!

So, I think I can safely say that if Sora is on the scene now, what are the odds of the other girl Digidestineds being in this story too, hmm? Honestly, thinking I've offed them—shame on you guys! They're part of the show's charm!

This chapter is twice the length I usually do. I wanted to make up for a three month hiatus and to move the plot along. Oh my, what happened to Leomon? How did Hiroaki meet Wizardmon? What is the significance of the Parasimon in the network? Who is this "they" Mizuki Kishimoto spoke of? You'll have to continue reading to find out.

I had Tai teach Koromon the Japanese alphabet song instead of English, because hey, they're in Japan. You can hear the one he was singing on youtube. Just type in "Japanese alphabet song" and it should be the first video that pops up. The account is called Letslearnjapanese. I've been told it sounds like Naruto singing it. Personally, I think it sounds like China from Hetalia, lol. It's a very catchy tune nonetheless.

I made the date of the Hikarigaoka Incident the same date as when the kids get pulled into the Digital World on purpose. I figured since the date was pretty significant in the anime and we are never told the date for what happened at Highton View Terrace, that it would neat to use that one. And maybe something *else* significant may occur in this AU on that date in the future...

Thank you, Hyfy, for telling me Hiroaki's coworkers names and thank you everyone else who has read this fic and reviewed (and even those who haven't, you wonderful lurkers you XP). I hope you have enjoyed reading this! Please continue to review and share your thoughts. I love hearing what you liked best and it's the only reward a fanfic author gets. Favoriting and story alerting my story are nice too, but I like knowing what my readers think and feel. It makes me feel as if I'm actually connecting with you guys; even if it's just one word or a whole page long, I appreciate each and every one. If you have any questions just ask, and I'll try to answer to the best of my capabilities without giving anything away. Thank you!^^

P.S. Does Tai's dad rock or what? Yay or nay!